CWHL

Pro women hockey players form union in step toward league

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More than 200 of the world’s top women’s hockey players have formed a union, saying they must ”stand together” if there is to be a sustainable professional league.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) said Monday the paperwork was filed Friday to help push for the creation of a ”single, viable women’s professional league in North America.”

The women had announced earlier this month their pledge to sit out the upcoming season in North America after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League abruptly shut down this year. That leaves only the National Women’s Hockey League, which took back control of the Buffalo Beauts on May 8.

The PWHPA said in a statement the association also will help players coordinate training needs and opportunities and develop sponsor support.

”We are fortunate to be ambassadors of this beautiful game, and it is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of players have more opportunities than we had,” Kendall Coyne Schofield said in a statement. ”It’s time to stand together and work to create a viable league that will allow us to enjoy the benefits of our hard work.”

Coyne Schofield won Olympic gold with the U.S. in 2018 and was an NWHL All-Star with the Minnesota Whitecaps this past season.

The new union’s members include players from Europe along with the U.S. and Canada.

”We might play for different teams, and come from different countries, but we’re united in our goals,” said goaltender Noora Raty, who has won two Olympic bronze medals with Finland. ”This is about protecting ourselves, protecting our future, and making hockey a better place for women and girls.”

The PWHPA made it clear the union wants a league that provides health insurance, money and infrastructure along with support for training programs.

”We are prepared to stop playing for a year, which is crushing to even think about, because we know how important a sustainable league will be to the future of women’s sports,” Canadian national team goalie Shannon Szabados said. ”We know we can make this work, and we want the chance to try.”

Liz Knox, former co-chair of the CWHL Players Association, said the players are uncertain about what happens next.

”But we move forward united, dedicated, and hopeful for our future and the future of this game we love so much,” Knox said.

The NWHL stresses that not everyone is boycotting the lone remaining women’s professional league.

The league announced a couple of player deals, notably one featuring Madison Packer. Packer, who is tied for most goals in NWHL history, signed for $12,000 to play the upcoming season with the Metropolitan Riveters. The NWHL previously announced players also will receive a 50 percent cut of revenue and 15 percent apparel sales with their names this upcoming season.

”I’m coming back for a fifth season because I am passionate about continuing my playing career and to advance the game and our league,” Packer said.

”I’m confident in the direction our sport is headed, and in the plan the NWHL has laid out for a strong season and positive experience for players and fans. It’s important to build off the momentum created by the league’s success last season, and my body feels good enough to continue playing.”

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Women pushing for new hockey league staring at open calendar

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For Kimberly Sass, the decision to risk missing a season of hockey in a bid for a better professional women’s league came down to simple choice.

Dollars and cents matter more than ice time and stopping pucks.

”In April, I came to realize that after tax write-offs, including equipment, travel and taxes I paid more to play professional ice hockey in 2018 than I made,” the Metropolitan Riveters goaltender said. ”It is the financially responsible decision to not play professional women’s ice hockey next season.”

Sass , who is also an architect in New York City, is among the more than 200 of the world’s top female players who announced they will not play professional hockey in North America next season in a bold attempt to establish a single, economically viable league. While members of national teams get stipend money from USA Hockey and Hockey Canada and some sponsorships, some have been paid as little as $2,000 a year to play.

The decision to sit out was not easy, nor was it fully unified despite the large number. Time waits for no one in sports, and not practicing with teammates or playing games is a heavy blow. Staying in ”hockey shape” is a concern.

Women on national teams will have practices and tournaments like the Four Nations Cup in November and the 2020 world championships. Liz Knox, goalie and co-chair of the players’ union for the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League, said she expects to see more support from Hockey Canada and USA Hockey to keep those players fit.

Still, many players are just trying to figure out what’s next, and those conversations haven’t been held yet in the wake of organizing this push for a sustainable league. Knox said the challenge is balancing resources. Simply playing in a beer league wouldn’t be fair to players already in those leagues.

”So where do we fit in here?” Knox said. ”I don’t know. That’s something that we’re still trying to navigate.”

The clock is ticking for older players, including several of the stars who ended the United States’ Olympic gold medal drought in 2018. Meghan Duggan, captain of that U.S. team, will be 32 in September and has played in both the CWHL and NWHL. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, who helped clinch Olympic gold for the United States in 2018 with her shootout goal, and sister Monique Lamoureux-Morando turn 30 in July.

Both sisters took off the past year to start families with each having sons last winter, and now they face a second season without hockey. Lamoureux-Davidson says the twins are trained by her sister’s husband and also skate at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The next step will be trying to figure out how everyone can train and stay sharp on the ice.

”And hopefully there’s support from other organizations, and I think there’s conversations about that,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. ”But yeah, definitely that’s where the concern comes in for a lot of players as well is, ‘What am I going to do to be where I need to be when there’s a place to play?”’

Sass already knows the challenge of taking a break from hockey, having thought she retired not once but twice. The first came right after graduating from Colgate and choosing graduate school over the CWHL or playing in Europe. Following the National Women’s Hockey League’s first season with Buffalo, she thought her career over again when she couldn’t find a position on another team. She didn’t work out or train with a goalie coach, making it tougher when she got a call just before the 2017-18 season.

Like many players, Sass juggles a traditional job with hockey. She has had colleagues ask why she works as an architect if she’s a professional hockey player, and she missed the Riveters’ last playoff game in March not wanting to take off an extra half day from her new job because travel to Minnesota was routed round-trip through North Carolina.

Sass said she knows at age 28 she might not play in the new league the women want.

”It’s really a personal decision for players to decide to continue training to keep doors open or to help the game in other ways,” Sass said.

Every woman who decided not to play in North America this next season understands that some may never benefit, and Lamoureux-Davidson said that is part of the push to create something that can last.

”I think everyone understands that it’s much bigger than any one individual’s career, and we’re all proud to stand together and hopefully make a big difference for the next generation,” she said.

Anything should be better than a typical Thursday for Knox while she was playing for the CWHL’s Markham Thunder. She worked her day job as a contractor from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m., grabbed dinner, went to class training for a career as a firefighter between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. before driving to practice. Knox said she could not remember the last time she got a full eight hours’ sleep balancing professional hockey and work.

”You’re looking at 6 a.m. to an 11 p.m. day, and we shouldn’t have to do that,” Knox said.

AP Hockey Writers John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno contributed.

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Women’s players hope NHL steps in to create new league

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Meghan Duggan need only look around sports to get excited about what an NHL-run women’s hockey league might look like.

The NBA did it with the WNBA. Soccer leagues in Europe and the U.S. have done it. And that was enough for the 2018 U.S. Olympic gold-medal winning captain and more than 200 fellow players to take a leap of faith by pledging not to play in North America this year to try to get to the point where there is a single, economically viable professional league.

”History has told all of us that startup women’s professional leagues thrive and are very successful when working with an existing professional league,” Duggan said. ”That’s definitely something I think that we would be excited about. But this is just the first step in getting there.”

The effective boycott of North America’s only remaining women’s hockey league, the National Women’s Hockey League, sent shockwaves through the sport.

Now comes the big question: Will it work?

”I think they have a better chance of succeeding than some of the men’s unions have,” said Matt DelDuca, a labor and employment attorney with Pepper Hamilton. ”Strikes have not been very effective in professional sports for players because it’s hard to maintain them long term. Women’s professional sports are a little different because of the economics. I think there is a tremendous opportunity for them.”

It’s an opportunity equipment giant Bauer Hockey wants to be a part of. Vice president of marketing Mary-Kay Messier said the National Hockey League ”must be in an ownership position” for any women’s league.

”I really do believe and we at Bauer believe that that is the only sustainable, viable option for ownership,” Messier said.

The NHL has given $50,000 annually each to the NWHL and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League that recently shut down . It has invited a handful of top players to participate in its All-Star skills competition and invited stakeholders to various meetings.

University at Buffalo sports law professor Nellie Drew wondered what happens next.

”The question is going to be whether the economic demand will be there to drive this,” Drew said. ”Right now in 2019, do the women’s hockey players have the economic leverage to make an effective stand on this position? Maybe not. But do they have the capacity to drive public sentiment strongly enough that it will make the (NHL) consider it? Yeah, I think they do.”

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league backs ”the concept of professional women’s hockey and elite women’s hockey players having the ability to play the game at a professional level,” but it is too early to commit to a bigger role.

”What is going on now with the kind of shut down of the CWHL and now the this boycott of the NWHL it’s not ideal for anybody,” he said. ”We’ll see how it all plays out. We certainly want to preserve the ability of women players to play at the highest level. So it’s really too early to say how that is going to play out and how the NHL’s role will or won’t be going forward. We’re going to have to be observers.”

The U.S. women’s national team in 2017 threatened to skip the world championships in Michigan and wound up getting an improved benefits package from USA Hockey. Those players will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn about $71,000 annually. They can make up to $129,000 in Olympic years with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee. It was a big boost for a group of women who were getting $1,000 a month for six months around the Olympics.

That situation is much different from trying to establish a league from scratch, with questions ranging from the business model to potential locations, sponsors and investors, player benefits and more. The NWHL said it was going ahead with next season and was offering improved salaries and a revenue-sharing deal with players, who nonetheless made their decision to sit out.

Skipping a season is a question female soccer players have faced many times as a labor tactic, said Megan Rapinoe, named to her third U.S. roster for the upcoming Women’s World Cup. The captain of Reign FC in the NWSL expressed support for her fellow female athletes.

”It’s sort of a last-resort tactic that is just the labor side of things (athletes are) sometimes forced to take,” Rapinoe said Friday. ”And I think you never want to, but I think you always have to be willing to if it gets to that point.”

Players have urged USA Hockey and Hockey Canada to become involved in helping set up the framework for a professional league. Critics have questioned why USA Hockey hasn’t done more on the women’s side, particularly when it provides support to the USHL, America’s top junior hockey league for males 20 and younger.

”While we’re certainly an interested party in the happenings on the professional side of the game, our priority is on continuing to grow the game at the grassroots level and enhancing and supporting our national team program,” USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said in a prepared statement.

As for backing the USHL, USA Hockey has made the distinction the junior league is for amateur athletes, and not professionals.

Hockey Canada drew criticism for failing to respond to the CWHL’s last-minute plea for assistance just before the league announced in March it would shut down. The organization has not responded to a request for comment this week.

No one believes a long-term league will materialize overnight, but U.S. Olympian Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said she was optimistic based on the NHL’s position and the power of so many players.

”We feel confident that we potentially have a gap year now and players are prepared to sit out an entire season of professional hockey, which isn’t good for any one individual player,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. ”But hopefully that will be the maximum that anyone would have to sit out.”

As word of the women’s decision spread, NHL players said they were excited even if they’re not sure how a league run by the NHL might work.

”They’re the best in the world at what they do. They should be compensated accordingly,” Colorado defenseman Ian Cole said. ”I’m not sure how that would be structured. I’m not the chief financial officer of the NHL. I don’t know what the figures would look like. I don’t know if it’s economically feasible. I’m not sure how they would do it. Would we like to see that? Yeah, absolutely.”

AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker, Pat Graham and Tim Booth contributed.

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Women’s hockey stars announce boycott in demand for one league

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Tired of the status quo and low pay, more than 200 of the world’s top female hockey players announced Thursday they will not play at all this year in an attempt to establish a single, economically viable professional league in North America.

”One hundred percent it’s a big risk,” said goaltender Liz Knox, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Players’ Association co-chair. ”But it’s like how long do we want to suffer through this and keep doing the same thing over and over again before we say: ‘There’s got to be better for us.”’

The players announced their decision on social media in a strikingly unified effort that came together in less than a month. The group includes stars such as Americans Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield and Canadian national team goalie Shannon Szabados, and all of them expressed their dissatisfaction with the current state of the sport while demanding a say in establishing a league.

”We’re not playing anywhere professionally in North America. We just want to build something better,” Knight said. ”Now, what that looks like could be a handful of different things. But our main purpose and goal is to promote the growth of the game and increase the visibility. But ultimately, we need the sustainability factor to make us all feel better about what we’re doing on a daily basis.”

The announcement stressed cross-border unity in North America, home to the top women’s national teams in the world in the U.S. and Canada. The players cited obstacles they’ve had to contend with, including being paid as little as $2,000 a year and paying for their own health insurance.

”We may have represented different teams, leagues and countries – but this is one family. And the time is now for this family to unite,” their statement read. ”This is the moment we’ve been waiting for – our moment to come together and say we deserve move.”

The decision is an immediate threat to the future of the National Women’s Hockey League, the U.S.-based five-team league that is the only current option in North America after the CWHL, which had six teams in the U.S. and Canada and China, formally shut down Wednesday.

The NWHL, however, said it planned to push forward with its fifth season this October and would offer salary increases and a ”50-50 revenue split from league-level sponsorships and media rights deals.”

The NWHL statement did not mention its earlier plans to expand into Toronto and Montreal next season.

All eyes were also on the NHL, which has provided financial support to both the CWHL and NWHL but steered clear of throwing its full support behind a women’s league.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly noted the NWHL remains in existence, and the NHL has no intention of interfering with its business plan or objectives. Daly added he doesn’t anticipate ”at this early stage” having women’s pro hockey placed on the agenda for the league’s board of governors meetings next month.

”We will further explore the situation privately before taking any affirmative position on next steps,” Daly said.

The pledge to sit out comes just two years after the U.S. national team earned a pay raise after threatening to boycott the 2017 world championships being held on U.S. soil. And it comes amid other efforts by women’s teams to be treated and paid equitably. The U.S women’s soccer team has sued the U.S. Soccer Federation over their wages and treatment.

”The unity of the players speaks volumes to what is so important to what comes next,” U.S. player Kendall Coyne Schofield said. ”I think with over 200 players and once voice and one collective unit, we’re going to continue to fight for the best option.”

The decision comes little over a month since the CWHL made an abrupt decision to shut down due to financial issues, leaving the NWHL as the only remaining pro league. But rather than make the jump to the NWHL, the players spent the past two weeks reaching a consensus to risk sitting out an entire year.

”Obviously we want to be on the ice, but I think that kind of speaks volumes to how critical it is and how important it is to us,” said Szabados, who spent last season playing for the NWHL Buffalo Beauts.

”It’s strength in numbers. It’s coming from all of us. It’s not just a few of us,” Szabados added. ”It’s not just players who play for one league or the other. It’s over 200 of us that kind of want to stop being pulled in 10 different directions and kind of get all our resources under one roof.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman previously told The Associated Press he doesn’t want the league to be seen as ”a bully” in pushing either of the two leagues out of business. As for assuming control, Bettman has repeatedly said the NHL doesn’t believe in either of the league’s business models.

Bettman reiterated his position during an interview with The AP this week. He referred to the CWHL ceasing operations as something that ”proved the point that we have genuine concerns about sustainable models.”

”What we’ve repeatedly said is if there turns out to be a void – and we don’t wish that on anybody – then we’ll look at the possibilities and we’ll study what might be appropriate,” Bettman added. ”But at the end of the day, we’re not looking to put anybody out of business. And if the NWHL can make a go of it, we wish them good luck.”

That’s not good enough, Knox said.

”The NHL’s saying, ‘Until there’s a voice in women’s hockey we’re not going to step in,”’ Knox said. ”Well, here’s a void. Here’s the players saying this is not enough. We’ve earned better than this. We’ve earned the respect we have, and we deserve what we’re asking for.”

Knox also placed the onus on Hockey Canada and USA Hockey for providing more resources to develop the women’s game.

”Take a look in the mirror, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey,” she said. ”I mean, these are your players who are winning you Olympic medals saying, ‘We’re just not getting enough right now.’ … I would certainly hope it’s a moment for them to self-reflect and say, ‘OK, where are our interests and where do we see it fitting in the future?”

The six-team CWHL operated as a not-for-profit league and was restricted by Canadian tax laws in how much it could pay its players. Though established in 2007, the CWHL didn’t begin paying its players what was considered a stipend – ranging between $10,000 and $2,000 – two years ago.

The NWHL was established in 2015, and became the first league to pay its players annual salaries which ranged from between $26,000 and $10,000 in its inaugural season. Financial difficulties, however, led the NWHL to slash salaries by as much as half a little over a month into its second season.

The NHWL no longer publicly releases player salary numbers.

”The NWHL has time and time again shown it’s not that long-term, viable option for women in hockey, and it does not showcase the best product of women’s hockey in the entire world,” said Coyne Schofield, who most recently played for the NWHL’s Minnesota Whitecaps. ”There’s a lot of things that go into it. … The business model is one of those, the salaries, health insurance, the treatment of the players. There’s a lot of things that make it really tough to be a professional athlete in the NWHL.”

What makes the pledge notable, Knox said, is getting a majority of non-national team players to also commit to the decision because they in some ways have more to risk in not playing.

”They’re making the ultimate sacrifice to say, ‘I would rather not play another professional game this year and possibly the rest of my life than live another day knowing we’re in a world that professional female hockey players do not have the stage they deserve,” Knox said. ”And I think that’s a powerful thing.”

AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.

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Players demand say in women’s hockey future after CWHL folds

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Hilary Knight put aside the jet lag and fresh memories of helping the United States win its latest world hockey championship to begin looking ahead to next season.

Yes, the star forward intends on playing professionally in October. The only question Knight can’t answer is where.

”Yeah, exactly,” she told The Associated Press by phone this week, shortly after returning home to Idaho after a 2-1 shootout victory over host Finland in the gold-medal game Sunday.

With a laugh, she added: ”My mom would love to know that, too.”

Knight is suddenly one of some 100 players without a place to play after the six-team Canadian Women’s Hockey League last month abruptly announced it was ceasing operations as of May 1. Knight had just completed her first full season playing for the CWHL franchise in Montreal after spending two seasons with Boston of the U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League.

Knight is in no hurry to rush back to the NWHL, acknowledging she left the league in part by how the league operated, including cutting players’ salaries in half a month into the 2016-17 season. With the CWHL’s collapse due to financial reasons, the 29-year-old said she prefers taking a contemplative step back before determining what’s best for her and the sport.

”I don’t think either model has it figured out, to be honest,” Knight said, referring to the CWHL, which operated as a nonprofit, and the private investor-backed NWHL.

”We want to be confident in something we’re endorsing, and that’s one of the reasons I moved to the CWHL,” she added. ”And now, there’s a lot of different open doors, and we just have to figure out which makes sense for the future.”

Knight isn’t alone.

The five-team NWHL swiftly announced its intention to expand to Toronto and Montreal next season, but players on both sides of the border are using the CWHL’s demise as a starting point for a big-picture discussion on the game’s future, and demanding they have a say in it.

”I think it’s kind of opened our eyes to something that we always knew was there, and to seize the opportunity to really ask for more for our sport,” said goalie Liz Knox, the CWHL Players’ Association co-chair.

”I see more often, women, especially female athletes, being told to be grateful for opportunity. And certainly we are,” she added. ”But at some point that line of being grateful has to be broken to ask for more or to demand for more. … There’s got to be better out there for us.”

Without going into detail, the 30-year-old Knox said there have already been ”a handful” of proposals kicked around in the three weeks since the CWHL announcement. Players and CWHL executives have been communicating via email and text, and Knox expects those discussions to ramp up now that the world championships are over.

Though time is an issue with NWHL teams preparing to restock their rosters next month, Knox said players need to present a united front in knowing they have leverage in determining their futures.

It’s a moment not much different than two years ago, when Team USA players won pay raises after threatening to boycott competing in the world championships being held on U.S. soil.

”Certainly, what the U.S. girls did was courageous to say the least,” Knox said. ”But that’s very much the situation we’re in.”

As for the NWHL, Knox said she doesn’t have firsthand knowledge of what the plusses or minuses might be in joining the rival league. She does question whether players will eventually find themselves having the same struggles making ends meet.

”The NWHL seems comfortable. And maybe some players want that,” Knox said. ”So I’m not saying, ‘No.’ But I’m also saying if given the opportunity for more, I think most players would take that.”

Ultimately, she said, the decision mostly rests on both countries’ national team players because they have the most invested in the game.

The NWHL released a statement to the AP saying it ”understands the players’ desire to consider all options, and we are in the process of communicating with them about our plans for the upcoming season.” The league is also open to addressing questions or ideas players might have.

The NWHL declined to provide any updates on its expansion plans into Canada, while noting the next season opens in less than six months.

”There is a lot of work to be done in a brief time,” the NWHL said. ”The opportunity for professional women’s hockey in North America is enormous, and the NWHL is committed to building the league that the players and fans deserve.”

In an email to the AP, U.S. national team member Jocelyne Lamoureaux-Davidson said players are on the same page. She added joining the NWHL ”is too simple to assume” but only time will tell.

Lamoureaux-Davidson also noted how players have been outspoken in having the NHL play a role in overseeing a pro league.

Though the NHL financially supports women’s pro hockey, it has been cautious in taking a larger role. Commissioner Gary Bettman previously said the league was hesitant about assuming control of the CWHL or NWHL or both because, as he put it, ”we don’t believe in their models.” He emphasized the importance of starting with a clean slate.

CWHL interim Commissioner Jayna Hefford believes the NHL stepping in is the ultimate answer.

Though disappointed by the CWHL’s demise, Hefford said the announcement has provoked serious discussion over the sport’s future.

”This certainly appears to be the end for the CWHL, but I’m extremely optimistic for what will happen down the road,” Hefford said. ”I think it’s time for change in women’s sports, and we don’t know what that change is yet. But I certainly believe the players need to be strong in what they want.”

AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.

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